When it comes to self-esteem, it occurs to me that there are three ways of thinking.
At one extreme is “the opinions of others mean everything.” Many people (especially young women) go through this during adolescence; others take longer to grow out of it (if they do at all). We all know someone who cringes with self-consciousness about … well, everything, who wouldn’t be caught dead going to a movie alone, because “what would people think?” Same with eating alone, attending a wedding stag, or what have you. Rather than focus on “I’m eager to go to this wedding to celebrate my friend’s happiness,” they’re focused on, “what will people think of me if I don’t have a date?”
At the other extreme is “the opinions of others mean nothing.” I see this attitude expressed on tumblr all the time - “the hell with everyone else, I’m just gonna be myself.” It’s a sentiment that many people applaud, but it always gives me pause - we live our lives in community with others, and our sense of self is formed in interaction with those around us (unless we disengage from society and go live in a cave). So, while I’d agree that the opinions of others should not be our primary focus, I question whether they can be entirely disregarded as we move through our lives.
Which brings us to the third school of thought, which exists somewhere in between, and on a continuum between the extremes of the other two. I would call this “I’m okay with that.” It goes something like this: “I know you see me eating alone, and I know you might be judging me for it, but I’m okay with that. I know who I am.” Or, “I know you see me attending this wedding without a date, and I know what judgments you might be making, but I’m okay with that. I’m here to support and celebrate my friend.”
I’d like to always dwell in this stage. I don’t, but I’m getting better with time (and age and, perhaps, maturity). It’s not that the opinions of others don’t matter - I acknowledge them - but I don’t have to internalize them. I don’t have to agree with them. I can say (in my mind) “yeah, I know what you might be thinking, but that’s not how it is, so I’ll just be doing my thing.”
I often see my students wrestling with these ideas - the self-conscious ones who place a lot of importance on the opinions of others, or the “I gotta be me” types who seem defiant (and underneath that, perhaps hurt, perhaps burned). I hope they’ll gradually see there’s a middle road of “I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not that I don’t care, but it doesn’t define me.”
When we think that way, our identity comes into sharper focus.
What sustains life and health?
Fresh air. Lots of clean water. Adequate sleep. Nutritious food. Exercising the body. Exercising the mind in positive ways. Happiness.
I’m thinking of how my life has sometimes gone off the rails, and it’s usually when I neglect these areas. I stay cooped up inside. I drink coffee and soft drinks. I only sleep a few hours a night. I eat junk. The only exercise I get, many days, is running around like a chicken with my head cut off because I’m behind schedule due to poor time management. I allow my mind to dwell on fears, rather than positive things. I do things that don’t add to my happiness.
This is an ongoing struggle for me, as it is for many perfectionists (we tend to have a martyr complex), but I’m making improvements. I got eight full hours of sleep last night, and I feel great. I’m on my way to the gym to do some exercise. I’m drinking water instead of soda. I’m eating well today. Just for today, one day, I can do these things, then do them again tomorrow.
I’m sick of being overtired, undernourished, behind schedule. The days are speeding by, and this is my life. I owe it to myself, and those who love me, to get a handle on things.
Eat, drink, pray, love, sleep, and fix your mind on good things today. That’s my wish for both of us.
Great piece on what it means to be truly confident. I think we’ve all known an “intellectual bully” who’s not willing to be wrong.
Moving is a great time to purge stuff - or is it? This author confesses to pack-rat tendencies:
When I left Boondocks University to accept my current job (I just finished my first year on the tenure track), I got rid of tons of stuff. Several large garbage bags of clothes went to Goodwill, books and housewares to the grad students coming up behind me. Still, I had to hire movers. Gone are the days when it all fit in the back of my car. I have a larger apartment now, and since we tend to expand to fill the space, I’ve acquired more stuff.
What about you? Do you tend to “pack light,” or do you need all your … stuff?
has been making the rounds on social media for academics. I must admit, it got my back up, the first time I read it. I love teaching, and can’t imagine a more noble profession - so when the author claims to like the academic life, just not the teaching part, the judgmental part of my brain kicked into high gear.
I’ve known many academics - grad students and professors alike - who love to do research, but consider their teaching duties an annoyance. I often thought that such people wanted to be affiliated with universities solely so their research was supported, but that they had little interest in educating the next generation of scholars. Educating their peers, yes, through publications and conferences, but not the up-and-coming adults who’ll be running the world when we’re doddering old crones.
Then I cooled down, and read it again - and this time I really looked at what the author was saying. She acknowledges that teaching is a worthwhile endeavor … just admits that it’s not her favorite thing to do. It’s the “eat your vegetables” of academic life, to her. I can understand this, as writing as research are my “vegetables.”
I’ll admit there are parts of teaching I don’t like - mainly involving grading. I love planning lessons, and interacting with students in the classroom, but grading is always the albatross around my neck. Maybe someday I can make big bucks on the lecture circuit, and lose the never-ending pipeline of essays and exams that are waiting for my attention.
I can appreciate what the author says - there are things that are worth doing well, even if we don’t enjoy them. And we’re all going to find our fulfillment in different ways.